Arianism

Arianism


A heresy which arose in the fourth century, and denied the Divinity of Jesus
Christ.

DOCTRINE

First among the doctrinal disputes which troubled Christians after Constantine
had recognized the Church in A.D. 313, and the parent of many more during some
three centuries, Arianism occupies a large place in ecclesiastical history. It
is not a modern form of unbelief, and therefore will appear strange in modern
eyes. But we shall better grasp its meaning if we term it an Eastern attempt to
rationalize the creed by stripping it of mystery so far as the relation of
Christ to God was concerned. In the New Testament and in Church teaching Jesus
of Nazareth appears as the Son of God. This name He took to Himself (Matt., xi,
27; John, x, 36), while the Fourth Gospel declares Him to be the Word (Logos),
Who in the beginning was with God and was God, by Whom all things were made. A
similar doctrine is laid down by St. Paul, in his undoubtedly genuine Epistles
to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians. It is reiterated in the Letters
of Ignatius, and accounts for Pliny's observation that Christians in their
assemblies chanted a hymn to Christ as God. But the question how the Son was
related to the Father (Himself acknowledged on all hands to be the one Supreme
Deity), gave rise, between the years A. D. 60 and 200, to number of Theosophic
systems, called generally Gnosticism, and having for their authors Basilides,
Valentinus, Tatian, and other Greek speculators. Though all of these visited
Rome, they had no following in the West, which remained free from controversies
of an abstract nature, and was faithful to the creed of its baptism.
Intellectual centers were chiefly Alexandria and Antioch, Egyptian or Syrian,
and speculation was carried on in Greek. The Roman Church held steadfastly by
tradition. Under these circumstances, when Gnostic schools had passed away with
their "conjugations" of Divine powers, and "emanations" from the Supreme
unknowable God (the "Deep" and the "Silence") all speculation was thrown into
the form of an inquiry touching the "likeness" of the Son to His Father and
"sameness" of His Essence. Catholics had always maintained that Christ was truly
the Son, and truly God. They worshipped Him with divine honors; they would never
consent to separate Him, in idea or reality, from the Father, Whose Word, Reason,
Mind, He was, and in Whose Heart He abode from eternity. But the technical terms
of doctrine were not fully defined; and even in Greek words like essence (ousia),
substance (hypostasis), nature (physics), person (hyposopon) bore a variety of
meanings drawn from the pre-Christian sects of philosophers, which could not but
entail misunderstandings until they were cleared up. The adaptation of a
vocabulary employed by Plato and Aristotle to Christian truth was a matter of
time; it could not be done in a day; and when accomplished for the Greek it had
to be undertaken for the Latin, which did not lend itself readily to necessary
yet subtle distinctions. That disputes should spring up even among the orthodox
who all held one faith, was inevitable. And of these wranglings the rationalist
would take advantage in order to substitute for the ancient creed his own
inventions. The drift of all he advanced was this: to deny that in any true
sense God could have a Son; as Mohammed tersely said afterwards, "God neither
begets, nor is He begotten" (Koran, cxii). We have learned to call that denial
Unitarianism. It was the ultimate scope of Arian opposition to what Christians
had always believed. But the Arian, though he did not come straight down from
the Gnostic, pursued a line of argument and taught a view which the speculations
of the Gnostic had made familiar. He described the Son as a second, or inferior
God, standing midway between the First Cause and creatures; as Himself made out
of nothing, yet as making all things else; as existing before the worlds of the
ages; and as arrayed in all divine perfections except the one which was their
stay and foundation. God alone was without beginning, unoriginate; the Son was
originated, and once had not existed. For all that has origin must begin to be.

Such is the genuine doctrine of Arius. Using Greek terms, it denies that the Son
is of one essence, nature, or substance with God; He is not consubstantial
(homoousios) with the Father, and therefore not like Him, or equal in dignity,
or co-eternal, or within the real sphere of Deity. The Logos which St. John
exalts is an attribute, Reason, belonging to the Divine nature, not a person
distinct from another, and therefore is a Son merely in figure of speech. These
consequences follow upon the principle which